The research expedition of the “Aegean Explorer”, in the waters of the north eastern Aegean, continues despite the strong prevailing north winds. The first results of the focused and intense work of the research team, within the framework of “Protecting Aegean Sea Coralligene”, have been exceptionally interesting!

In a marine area of just 7000m2, the researchers have already recorded over 250 species of fauna and flora in ecosystems of the mesophotic zone.

To understand the importance of this research, we can highlight just one of the species of these habitats, the black coral, Antipathella subppinata, an ancient animal species that still survives in the seas and oceans of the planet. Although the growth rate of this coral is remarkably low (less than 1mm per year), there have been black coral forests aged to exceed 4000 years. This particular species, almost unknown today, was well-known in ancient Greece for its medicinal properties, while archaeological findings indicate it was also used in jewelry making.

The Aegean Explorer researchers located an extensive black coral forest at a depth of 100m. The black coral is a protected species, which is threatened by trawlers who drag heavy fishing gear across the sea floor. According to Greek legislation, the operation of this type of gear is not restricted in the area where this particular forest is situated. This is due to the fact that, up to this day, Greek authorities have mapped the protected marine habitats as they are obliged to. Consequently, this black coral forest faces a constant risk of destruction due to any (unfortunately legal) activity of a bottom trawler.

Each coral is formed by colonies of very small animals, sized less than a few mm each, called polyps. Interestingly all individuals cooperate for the colony’s survival, while each ‘specializes’ in specific roles like food collection, breeding and defense against predators.

Black coral forests form habitats crucial for many other marine species, for example, shark species, rays, squids etc. lay their eggs within the forests.

According to Ricardo Aguilar -Senior Advisor and Expedition Director of OCEANA- who is also joining the Aegean Explorer expedition, “The coralligenous habitats of the Aegean Sea are extremely biodiverse and their environmental significance is of international interest. These important ecosystems in this particular area of the Mediterranean are largely unknown to both the scientific community and the general public.Their protection is of the utmost priority.

The action “Protecting Aegean Sea Coralligene” is a collaboration among Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation, the international environmental organization Oceana, the Biology Department of Essex University, United Nations Regional Action Center for the Mediterranean (UNEP / MAP – SPA RAC) and the Laboratory of Physical Geography of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, with the support of the Pure Ocean Fund.

The active role of local fishermen from the northern Aegean islands, particularly the island of Fourni, is invaluable. For almost 15 years now, Archipelagos Institute and fishing communities have developed a relationship of mutual trust to cooperate in the exchange of information, aiming to halt the ongoing destruction of productive marine ecosystems before it is too late.

This common effort will continue until the protection of these highly important marine ecosystems is ensured. The ongoing actions of Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation are not exclusively scientific. We rely on the participation and support of everyone who is aware of the common responsibility we all share for the protection of the unique seas that surround us.